On August 2, 1915, Charles E. Becker was laid to rest in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, just two days after he had become the first police officer ever executed for murder in this country.
Charles E. Becker may well be the most notorious native of Sullivan County ever. Born on July 26, 1870 in Callicoon Center – he lived and worked on the family farm there until he was 21 – he became known as the most corrupt cop in New York City history, was tried and convicted twice of a high profile murder he quite likely did not commit, and was eventually executed in the Sing Sing electric chair – not without incident – on July 30. 1915.
But there’s a lot more to the Becker saga than that. Continue reading
In his new book Law & Disorder: The Chaotic Birth Of The NYPD (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) historian Bruce Chadwick argues that rampant violence led to the founding of the first professional police force in New York City.
Chadwick paints a picture of a bloody and violent city, where race relations and an influx of immigrants boiled over into riots, street gangs roved through town with abandon, and thousands of bars, prostitutes, and gambling emporiums clogged the streets.
Chadwick says that in the 19th century the crime rate was triple what it is today and the murder rate was five or six times as high. The drive to establish law and order involved some of New York’s biggest personalities, including mayor Fernando Wood and journalist Walt Whitman. Continue reading
Recently a study of the cause of “bright nights” – evenings on which the sky gives enough light to read a book or newspaper – appeared in Geophysical Research Letters before being reported in a number of newspapers and popular scientific publications. Part of the story’s appeal is undoubtedly the claim that such strange phenomena have been experienced repeatedly and regularly throughout history.
Pliny the Elder, for instance, is said to have described the appearance of a “nocturnal sun” and the transformation of night into day, while an 1842 description recalls ne’er-do- wells exposed by a midnight at once transformed into midafternoon. The letters of mid-19th century Parisians reported surprise at being able to make out people and objects previously obscured by shadow. The reports of a Copenhagen observatory of the early 20th include a more scientific accounting. That such astronomical oddities, though infrequent, occur regularly would suggest that New York ought to have had its share of bright nights. Continue reading
A new book about a little-known hero of World War II — and one with strong ties to the New York City area — has just been published by local writer David Rocco. Rocco has recently co-authored the book The Indestructible Man (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017), the story of Navy officer Dixie Kiefer, who was an instrumental player in major battles in World War II. Kiefer was the executive officer on the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown at both the Battle of the Coral Sea and Battle of Midway. He was the last man off Yorktown before she sank at Midway.
Though seriously injured, he swam through shark-infested waters pushing a life raft filled with hurt sailors toward a rescue ship. Later, as captain of the carrier USS Ticonderoga, his ship came under attack by kamikaze aircraft. Though critically wounded by flying shrapnel, he remained on the bridge, overseeing counter-attacks and damage control for twelve hours. Continue reading
A new book by Robert P. Watson, The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn (Da Capo Press, 2017) tells the story of a prison ship employed by the British during the American Revolution.
Moored off the coast of Brooklyn until the end of the war, the derelict ship, the HMS Jersey, held thousands of Americans either captured by the British or accused of disloyalty.
Crammed below deck – one thousand men at a time – without light or fresh air, the prisoners were scarcely fed food and water. Disease ran rampant and human waste fouled the air as prisoners were held at the mercy of British and Hessian guards. Continue reading
Along the Erie Canal, Buffalo, N.Y. (No. M 71, Buffalo News Co., Buffalo, N.Y.) courtesy ErieCanal.org
On July 4, 1817, at Rome, New York on a site now occupied by the Worthington Industries Steel plant, there was a ceremony allegedly turning the first spade of earth on the construction of the Erie Canal, one of the most important public works projects in history.
As we approach the Bicentennial of the Canal’s construction, we would do well to better understand this history and its importance. On July 2, 2017 there will be a march through Lower Manhattan sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Historical Association celebrating this event. Continue reading
In Who Should Rule at Home? (Cornell University Press, 2017) Joyce D. Goodfriend argues that the high-ranking gentlemen who figure so prominently in most accounts of New York City’s evolution from 1664, when the English captured the small Dutch outpost of New Amsterdam, to the eve of American Independence in 1776, were far from invincible and that the degree of cultural power they held has been exaggerated.
Goodfriend explains how the urban elite experienced challenges to its cultural authority at different times, from different groups, and in a variety of settings. Continue reading
The new book Historic Landmarks of Old New York (Museyon Guides, 2017) looks at Manhattan’s historic landmarks through photographs by Alfred Stieglitz, Berenice Abbott, Alfred Eisenstaedt and others; quotes by celebrities, from George Washington to Lenny Bruce; and informative anecdotes, including the last public execution in Washington Square, the ghost of Aaron Burr’s lost daughter, Alva Vanderbilt’s costume ball, The Beatles’ “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance and more. Continue reading
The summer season gets underway at the museum ship Lilac with the exhibit Great Shipwrecks of New York’s ‘Great’ Lakes and The Hidden Hulks of New York Harbor, on view through July 4, 2017. The exhibit opens Thursday, May 25 with a reception that is open to the public from 6 to 9 pm with a cash bar. David White, Recreation Specialist from New York Sea Grant (NYSG) will share reflections on “The Future of Our Maritime Heritage.” Continue reading
In her new book Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics (Metropolitan Books, 2017), historian Kim Phillips-Fein tells the story of the 1975 financial crisis that engulfed New York City. When the news broke that New York City was on the brink of fiscal collapse, few believed it was possible. How could the country’s largest metropolis fail? How could the capital of the financial world go bankrupt? Yet the city was indeed billions of dollars in the red, with no way to pay back its debts. Bankers and politicians alike seized upon the situation as evidence that social liberalism, which New York famously exemplified, was unworkable. The city had to slash services, freeze wages, and fire thousands of workers, they insisted, or financial apocalypse would ensue. Continue reading